THE GIG ECONOMY AND PRECARIOUS WORK

As we transition to a more digital or technological economy, and the landscape of our work continues to change, it is important to acknowledge the accompanying changes in the structure of work, and how that affects employees. In recent years, work has begun to move from being long-term and time-based to temporary and task-based5. This has been termed the “gig economy” and refers to short-term or non-standard work including freelance, contract, or consulting work5,32. The gig economy often involves the unbundling of jobs into tasks, allowing tasks to be distributed to low-cost gig workers rather than being assigned to permanent employees responsible for an entire project5. This type of employment often needs to be pieced together with other short-term gigs to subsidize a worker’s income and often comes without social supports such as private health insurance, pensions, and training. With a rise in this type of work and compensation, employees are experiencing less social protection and financial stability than ever before.

Despite this situation becoming more prevalent, it is important for incoming workers to understand this new gig economy and be prepared for what to expect in the labour market. There is a need for post-secondary institutions to prepare students for the financial and social challenges they may encounter upon graduation through transparency, real labour market data, as well as through lived WIL experiences. WIL students tend to engage in work that is “gig” in nature. It is short term, time-bound, project-oriented with specific deliverables required. WIL students, particularly those in paid positions, such as co-op, are expected to hit the ground running and provide value to their employers within a relatively short timeframe. This context helps to prepare students for the real-world gig economy. WIL experiences can also help to map student’s interests and career aspirations to future work opportunities that may be more susceptible to this kind of work and prepare students for the realities of their preferred industry. Finally, although WIL programs support students in acquiring a placement, work term or other WIL experience, more work should be done to help students advocate for project or gig work and self-manage independently through completion of that work. With the onset of a global pandemic, and a reduction in WIL opportunities, some institutions created more flexible pathways for students to fulfill WIL requirements. An example of this was the University of Waterloo’s Independent Contractor initiative, which allowed students to engage in self-employed work and pursue independent contractor or consultant positions for co-op credit to increase their employment options when searching for work in the current climate. This initiative could be further developed to include intentional programming to help students advocate for gig work and excel at self-management, which in turn would further prepare students for the gig economy of the future of work.

With the onset of a global pandemic, and a reduction in WIL opportunities, some institutions created more flexible pathways for students to fulfill WIL requirements. An example of this was the University of Waterloo’s Independent Contractor initiative, which allowed students to engage in self-employed work and pursue independent contractor or consultant positions for co-op credit to increase their employment options when searching for work in the current climate

REFERENCES | WORK-LEARN INSTITUTE

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